Synopsis: A year after saving her town from a psychotic killer on Christmas Eve, Winnie Carruthers’ life is less than wonderful — but when she wishes she’d never been born, she finds herself in a nightmare parallel universe and discovers that without her, things could be much, much worse.
Stars: Jane Widdop, Jess McLeod, Joel McHale, Katharine Isabelle, William B. Davis, Justin Long
Director: Tyler MacIntyre
Running Length: 87 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: Would Taylor Swift be where she is today if she hadn’t become a successful crossover artist? In a short amount of time, she was moving from country music to becoming a pop darling who is now the biggest artist on the planet. Due to that sustained crossover appeal, Swift has amassed many fans following her from one genre to another. That’s the ultimate prize for any consumer-based product released to the public: finding out if it can capture the attention of more than just its target audience, and it’s undoubtedly true in movies. Genre movies, horror specifically, can struggle to snag viewers who wouldn’t usually go for that type of entertainment. It takes uncovering a rare gem (an easy example is 1993’s A Nightmare Before Christmas) to find a new title to add to the list.
While I wouldn’t put It’s a Wonderful Knife on quite the same level as Tim Burton’s stop-motion animated holiday classic, I will give this creatively crafted twist on a perennial Christmas film major props for comfortably straddling two genres (slasher and Christmas) and representing both with an evident unbiased enthusiasm. Riffing on It’s a Wonderful Life is nothing new; Hollywood has been putting its spin on that Capra chestnut for ages, but it’s how writer Michael Kennedy (Freaky) approaches the material that sets it apart.
It’s Christmas in Angel Falls, and Winnie Carruthers (Jane Widdop) wants to party with her friends while her family finishes their celebration at home. Too bad a knife-wielding murderer in a white cloak and featureless mask has chosen that night to begin their reign of terror on the town. What Winnie doesn’t know is that the killer, known as the Angel of Death, is targeting their victims for personal reasons, and her own family may be at risk. Luckily, though the Angel racks up a decent body count, Winnie takes the killer down before they can murder her brother.
Unmasking the predator should lead to a resolution, but a year later, life in Angel Falls has grown rancid for Winnie, who is treated as a pariah for her service or forgotten about altogether. In anger, she wishes to a night illuminated with the Northern Lights that she’d never even been born…and her wish is granted. Making that wish has changed the course of events throughout time, though. In this new reality, not only do Winnie’s family and friends not know who she is, but no one stopped the Angel of Death’s first rampage, and they’ve been routinely taking out townspeople ever since that first Christmas one year prior. Winnie knows who the killer is, however, and as she tries to convince her family that she’s their long-lost (unborn) daughter, she teams up with a loner (Jess McLeod) to make sure this Angel gets their wings clipped. But if Winnie’s wish changed the fabric of time, could it also have changed the killer’s identity?
Embracing the holiday spirit while finding new ways for a masked serial killer to slice and dice revelers in a time-hopping horror fantasy could have been too hefty of an undertaking for a low-budget, direct-to-streaming title. However, no filmmakers here should expect to receive a lump of coal in their stockings based on It’s a Wonderful Knife. This is fun, with an engaging cast that makes it easy to watch. It’s also made of strong(ish) stuff, with most of the far-fetched logistics thought through enough or skimmed over quickly not to leave you obsessing over the dangling plot threads.
Carrying most of the film and its wrinkles in time on her back, Widdop was a strong casting choice by director Tyler MacIntyre. Obnoxious enough at the start to sell the angsty teenager vibe but able to quickly pivot to a young adult thrust into a crazy situation, Widdop is why many weightless shifts the film goes out on a limb with are given additional heft. She is also paired nicely with McLeod, a high-school castoff who suddenly becomes an essential figure in Winnie’s plan. There’s a fun supporting turn by Katherine Isabelle (Knight Moves) as Winnie’s aunt, and as Winnie’s dad, Joel McHale (Becky) continues his fascinating attempt to define his place in mainstream film. Then there’s Justin Long (Barbarian), who has been on a winning streak lately. I’ll say that Long opting to play his character with a voice like Dustin Hoffman as Dorothy Michaels in Tootsie was…a choice.
It’s a Wonderful Knife has a cheeky title that will catch the attention of the viewer…and who isn’t up for a little slasher whodunit with a twist? It comes out of the box ready to go with a built-in energy that keeps it moving with zip through its trim runtime. I can see this one working as a Halloween watch through the end of the year and beyond. That’s winning the crossover jackpot right there.